How one simple word resulted in a positive and powerful culture change at 3Rivers Federal Credit Union.
Apr 6, 2013
Jennifer Blomquist
Steve Vorderman

Look up the word “open” in Webster’s Dictionary and it reads: “in a state which permits freedom of view or passage; not enclosed, fenced in, sheltered, screened, etc.”

“That’s key to what we want to do,” says Don Cates, president and CEO of 3Rivers Federal Credit Union

Cates’ office is open and in plain view in the credit union’s new corporate headquarters building off Lima Road in Fort Wayne. It’s called the Northland East Campus and Cates is very proud of the building’s impressive look and openness.

“During the concept phase of this project, the staff at 3Rivers didn’t go looking at other financial institutions to get ideas,” says Cates. “Instead, they looked at Apple and Eli Lilly and other institutions outside of the financial industry to get that collaborative and inclusive effect.”

The 26,000 square-foot building boasts numerous windows inside and out. It’s airy, comfortable, inviting and, above all else, open.

“What I like about it is where you have windows, you either have meeting space or collaborative space or you have front line team people,” says Cates. “Management is in the ‘middle of the donut’ looking out.”

While the open environment concept was inviting to the staff, it was also somewhat daunting when they moved in last November. For years, the corporate staff was a “fractured team” as Cates describes it. Some of the staff worked out of a windowless basement in their former facility, while dozens of others were located in rented office space at a different location.

“With this new building and the newly-renovated branch next to it, we’ve brought everyone together,” says Cates.

There are no cubicles in the headquarter building, no closed doors and no hidden areas. Tables, chairs, couches and padded benches are everywhere. Even the tops of the short filing cabinets at every workstation have cushions on top to double as a seat. It’s all part of an open culture concept to allow for impromptu meetings and conversations to share ideas, solutions and support.

“We don’t want people to be shackled to their desks,” says Leslie-Anne Harants, chief culture officer for 3Rivers. “An open environment allows for flexibility, which allows for creativity.”

Both Cates and Harants realize people in Allen County and the surrounding areas have a plethora of choices when it comes to their financial needs. Dozens of banks and credit unions grace the local landscape.

“Honestly, our products and services aren’t any different from what you’d find at other banks and credit unions,” says Cates. “It’s our execution that makes the difference. We have great people working here and we need to put them in a position to be successful. It’s our job to make sure they’re trained, knowledgeable and educated so they can provide solid solutions for our members.”

With 67,000 members and 19 branches in Fort Wayne, Allen County and surrounding areas, 3Rivers has been an icon on the local business scene for 78 years. Cates recognizes the importance of taking care of the members.

“Financial matters are very private for people,” says Cates. “We’re not going to pass judgment on anyone about their money. We want to connect with our members and help them find solutions that make their money work for them.”

Harants points out that success at a financial institution today is very different than it used to be.

“A dollar is a dollar no matter where you go,” she says. “You can go to any ATM; you can get a mortgage; you can get a checking account anywhere in town. But with our open environment, we have the ability to work with you to get you to where you want to be financially.”

The new branch design with 3Rivers has member service rooms and business service rooms set up for casual conversations instead of stuffy meetings. There are upscale coffee stations at the branches as well as at the headquarters building to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere. The headquarters building also houses a walk-in branch for members.

In January, the credit union opened a branch in The Harrison in downtown Fort Wayne—its first location downtown. The 3,800-square-foot facility overlooks Parkview Field and offers four meeting rooms, a Wi-Fi cafe and a walk-up ATM. 

“I think it says a lot about what we do,” says Cates. “It allows us to get close to the nearly 30,000 people who work downtown.”

Cates says he and his colleagues are always open to new ideas and want to hear from the members.

“When you belong to 3Rivers, you own it,” says Cates. “The money stays here and we re-invest here. All of our shareholders are local. We continue to see significant growth. In fact, we’ve doubled in size over the last 10 years. Not many businesses can say that.”

The $15 million construction project on the headquarters building and the renovation to the neighboring branch on the Northland Campus was one of the largest construction projects in the state this past year and the third largest in Allen County.

Cates says more growth like that is warranted in the future, but 3Rivers isn’t planning to grow just for the sake of growth.

“We will never get too big to take care of our members,” he says. “At the crux of every decision is our mission statement: ‘Helping people understand their money matters every day.’”

Photo Caption
L to R: Heidi Colone, Harrison Branch Manager; Doug Lehman, Mortgage Services; and Stephanie Veit, Commercial Lender 


Three Rivers Federal Credit Union

Phone: (260) 490-8328


Products & Services: Helping people understand their money matters every day.

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